One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest @ The Gallery Players a review by Frederick R. Stal
Randall Patrick McMurphy is a rebel with a good heart who manages to sway his fellow inmates and audience alike. As the lead role (Joseph Cassese) in the legendary “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” which was released onscreen over 40 years ago, he still captivates us, makes us think, and of course laugh as well. How else to get by in the mundane daily routine of an insane asylum? Dale Wasserman’s theatrical adaptation stays true to an impactful, solemn storyline with a very important underlying message.
The novel, written in 1960 after a graduate fellowship at Stanford University and subsequently published 2 years later, is written by the late Ken Kesey. Kesey himself was no stranger to the rebellious spirit, being an important voice and figure in the counterculture movement. He hosted the famous Acid Tests, which embraced the use of psychedelic drugs and also were the initial platform that launched the career of the legendary Grateful Dead. Kesey was a proud leader of the Merry Pranksters. This is chronicled in another work, Tom Wolfe’s “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”. Working night shifts at the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital inspired Kesey to write ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’, later to be adapted for the screen some 15 years later by director Milos Forman.
The production stayed true to the original story, which is narrated throughout by Chief Bromden (Jonathan D. Mesisca), a half Native American whose large physical stature and enormous strength do not reflect his own self-image. He speaks to his father, in first person narrative about his thoughts on the experience and what feels like endless nights in the institution. Chief Bromden’s perspective shapes the conscience of the story, adding depth and perspective. This is quite interesting, as the character presents himself as being deaf and mute. McMurphy, referred to as “Mac”, fakes his insanity to escape the hard work of prison life. Nurse Mildred Ratched (Sidney Fortner) is perpetually antagonized by McMurphy from the get-go, giving the other patients the comfort to join in. Her subtle shaming, insistence on following the “rules”, threats of electroshock therapy, and overall demeaning undertones prove her to be the true antagonist.
‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ alludes to several themes, coupled with the intimacy of The Gallery Players, allowed for a real experience for the audience member. The cast and crew clearly put much thought and work into this production. I felt like I was on the ward with the other inmates, experiencing what they were experiencing, and feeling what they were feeling. McMurphy may have failed, “But at least I tried” he says, and that said it all. His provocations made us all think outside the box, question what sanity truly is, and have a sense of freedom even behind asylum walls. Chief Bromden, ‘The Chief’, in the end does what McMurphy could not. As he escapes, it leaves you feeling a sense of relief and freedom as you say the lines “…one flew east, one flew west, One flew over the cuckoo’s nest”.
The Gallery Players – www.galleryplayers.com
Located at 199 14th Street, Brooklyn NY